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SoNA 2020

Drugs, terrorism and the death penalty

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THE drug war is far from over.

Addressing the country’s massive problem on illegal drugs was one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign promises in 2016 and it did not come as a surprise that it was his first order of business upon assuming office.

Fast forward to 2020, his administration’s war against narcotics is still way up on the list — without any signs of it going away anytime soon, a reality Mr. Duterte begrudgingly admits.

“It is a never-ending war… I did not know when I arrived, when I got to look into the records of drug cases, then I realized that I was fighting against my own government, because of the police, the customs, and everyone else were dipping their dirty fingers into it,” the President lamented in one of his recent television interviews.

So broad and deep is the country’s illegal drug problem that the Chief Executive even claimed it as the root of the 2017 Marawi siege where, according to him, the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group fueled their operations not with ideology but by their profits from peddling narcotics.

Drug money also penetrated politics with “narco politicians” peddling not just their power and influence but illegal substances, according to Mr. Duterte. In fact, several weeks before the 2019 mid-term elections, the President released his infamous “narco-list” which bore the names of local officials and lawmakers with alleged ties to drug syndicates.

The expose, however, didn’t seem to affect their winnability as, out of the 46 names on the list, 26 went on to win at the polls — 18 were reelected, while the remaining eight were incumbent vice mayors or mayors who ran for different positions and won.

This only fueled the President’s desire to eradicate the illegal drug problem, which he also closely ties with the deeply ingrained corruption in government. Not far behind is the country’s decades-long issues with terrorism and violent extremism.

A two-pronged approach the Duterte administration saw as the be-all solution were the restoration of the death penalty and the strengthening of the country’s anti-terrorism law.

Restoring the death penalty for crimes related to illegal drugs and massive corruption was on the President’s wish list in his State of the Nation Address (SoNA) last year. With both chambers of Congress pretty much made up of Mr. Duterte’s allies, it was almost expected that his request would be granted.

“I respectfully ask Congress to reinstate death penalty, for heinous crimes related to drugs as well as plunder,” he said.

More than 10 bills were filed in the House of Representative (HoR) and also more than 10 were also filed in the Senate since Mr. Duterte made his call.

While the passage of a new death penalty law was likely to breeze through in the Senate with administration senators making up the greater majority, it fell on deaf ears in the HoR.

House Speaker Alan Cayetano vowed to initiate a “healthy debate” on the proposal to restore capital punishment since he sees it as an effective way “to prevent crime”. The House committees on Justice and on Dangerous Drugs began its deliberation on the proposed legislations in September last year. Nearly a year later, nothing more has come of it. Cayetano, as the Lower House’s leader, it seems, failed to herd like-minded colleagues and deliver it to Malacañang on a silver platter. That, or he simply was all about just lip service so he could then secure the speakership.

As for the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, the HoR merely adopted the upper chamber’s version of the anti-terror bill and passed it without much hitches after being certified as urgent by the Chief Executive.

The President officially signed Republic Act (RA) 1176 9, or the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020, on 3 July 2020 which took effect on 28 July.

With a stronger law against terror in place, virtually any hope left that the government will resume peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed unit, the New People’s Army, had been erased, owing to the fact that the Reds continued launching attacks against government forces and civilians even as the country is in the middle of another fight with the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Duterte resorted to declaring a ceasefire so as not to overstretch the assets and personnel of the military and police during the national health emergency.

The Chief Executive even threatened to declare martial law to curb any threat posed by communists and local terrorists.

“If you continue with your lawlessness, and it is happening all over the Philippines, maybe I will declare martial law,” he said in one of his public addresses, as he also served notice to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

Still, the government’s security cluster assured there will be no military rule and that the new law against terrorism will be laden with safeguards and will only go after “terrorists.”

As of 24 July, 19 appeals have been filed before the Supreme Court by various individuals and cause oriented groups to declare the Anti-Terrorism Law as unconstitutional — making it the most contested law in history.

With still no implementing rules and regulations and already in effect, it would be interesting to see if the enforcement of the Anti-Terrorism Law — especially against known enemies of the state — will really be according to what it was intended for.

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